Sometimes the smallest things strike the oddest chord. I was driving on a Saturday evening and turned on the radio. Out popped the voice of Thomas S. Monson, speaking at the General Young Women's Meeting. He said, as nearly as I can recall, "That is what we call repentance." If you read that quote aloud you may have no other choice but to mutter it sarcastically—maybe making little “air quotes.” It would be difficult for me to utter it any other way. Repentance is a principle that is so utterly trivial to comprehend at a basic level that I start with the assumption that everyone I speak to understands it. I would think that making such a basic statement would insult the intelligence of my audience. And yet from President Monson it was not insulting. He was totally serious and sincere.
It was at that moment that I realized that it takes something very special to be a General Authority in the church. It takes something that I certainly don't have. It requires that rare ability to explain the basic principles of the gospel a million times, week after week, to huge and impersonal audiences and feel totally sincere.
As a missionary it was different. You were in a very personal setting and every wink of discovery on the part of the hearer was exhilarating and invigorating, motivating you to continue in your instruction. But to stand in front of an audience, largely without personal feedback, and say the same lessons and stories week after week to different audiences must become tiresome. And yet this is precisely the public calling of a General Authority. In most of their public speaking, they are constrained to address the beginner. Sure, there are smaller settings where they may take more liberties, but when their reach is the greatest, their messages are usually the simplest.
All of this realization struck me, as it so often does, in quite a sudden flash. So many thoughts in such a brief instant. Almost immediately after making this realization about President Monson and the very special gift that he has, my mind moved to Truman Madsen. This man, through his lecture series on Joseph Smith, has surely touched the hearts of many more missionaries and members than perhaps he ever could have done in a dozen General Conference talks. My wife and I are currently reading the book form of another lecture series he did on the lives of the Presidents of the Church. It has been a faith building experience for us.
Truman Madsen is one who, no doubt, possesses a witness sure of the gospel and of the Lord Jesus Christ that could easily qualify him to fill the witnessing role of an apostle. And yet he remains, as far as I know, a patriarch in his home stake in Provo. Why such relative obscurity for one so blessed with so many wonderful and powerful insights into the gospel and one who has such a rare gift in sharing gospel stories? But of course the answer is simple. He is not obscure. Most likely you recognize his name. If you don't, you will likely now recognize it the next time you see his name in print. Truman is a man who has been unbound from the shackles of apostleship. Is it really a bondage? In some sense it must be. Truman has been granted the gift of time--time to think and to write and to speak. And not only to speak, but to speak to the faithful and devout. To speak to people beyond the level of the novice. To touch hearts without being constrained to address every comment to the recent convert. I am grateful for the apostles. And I am also grateful for the men and women who are not apostles.